2/15/16 – Basic Facts About Costa Rica – the non-Wikipedia summary through my eyes
Situated between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica is a relatively small country in Central America (approximately 288 miles from north to south). Comparatively, it is about half the size of Pennsylvania. It is bordered on the east by the Caribbean Sea and on the west by the Pacific Ocean; no, it’s not an island, but combined there’s over 800 miles of coastline to be enjoyed.
Costa Rica has two international airports: San Juan Santamaria Airport (SJO) in Alajuela, which is centrally located for travel throughout most of Costa Rica. The other airport, Daniel Oduber Airport (LIR) is located in Liberia and is your best choice if you are exploring the northwestern or Guanacaste regions. LIR had come a long way since my first time through its hub. Imagine my shock when upon landing, the hatch opened to reveal the metal staircase awaiting my descent, followed by my long walk across the grass from the runway into the open-air structure that served as both the airport and a roosting place for the colorful and vocal local birds. Nowadays LIR is completely modernized with all the standard airport amenities: air-conditioning, over-priced restaurants, and many vendors offering last minute temptations to tourists before exiting the country.
Because of its size, within a day’s trip, it’s possible to experience volcanos, rainforests, cloud forests, swamp lands, beaches, and fertile highlands. Costa Rica offers something for everyone (unless, of course, you are looking to snow ski!). Costa Ricans value and honor the earth and its resources; much of the country is protected, providing ample opportunities to partake in unspoiled splendor at the many parks and refuge areas throughout the country. Truly, this is a nature-lover’s paradise. There are hundreds of thousands of plant and animal species to be admired. Just Google “biodiversity images in Costa Rica” and be prepared to be endowed with a colorful kaleidoscope of nature’s finest – but don’t stop there, book your next vacation and personally experience Costa Rica’s splendor.
Costa Rica is comprised of seven provinces. All of which offer great variety in climate, biodiversity and topography. The interior of Costa Rica is very mountainous, with four major mountain ridges making the 177 miles from coast to coast an exciting opportunity to explore. Trekking about Costa Rica is not for the faint of heart, although there are several highways providing a path to major tourist areas, still many of the roads are unpaved, signage is not abundant, and traditional addresses are non-existent. If you ask for directions, most often you’ll be searching for landmarks and calculating distances between buildings in kilometers to find your intended destination.
When it comes to determining how to traverse the country there are a few considerations: distance, timing, convenience, and pricing. Hands down the most adventurous option is to hop a ride with new friends you’ve made on the flight or during your travels. I’ve had the good fortune to encounter lovely people and see beautiful places off the beaten path by accepting the gracious offers of fellow travelers and expats. My first shared ride was with the owner of Monterey Del Mar who offered to show us the area around Esterillos. After accompanying him on a local shopping excursion to locate a part for his air-conditioner and a quick stop at the MaxiPali for supplies for the restaurant’s evening meal, he offered us another ride to Jaco that evening for a fun adventure in a wild town. Another time we boldly asked around the campsite and met a lovely newlywed couple heading in the same direction; we hitched a ride from Nosara to Samara, which after gifting them gas money still saved us about $40, plus we had a grand adventure crossing riverbeds that no taxi driver would have tackled. Another time, a family offered us ride as we were walking back from the beach on an extremely hot and humid afternoon; we ended up with an invite to trek about with them to Tamarindo that evening – a town we had not planned to visit, but ended up having a grand time and being inspired by some recent expats. I’ve had great adventures with ride sharing, but it may not be for everyone; use your best judgement.
Another economical mode of transportation is the public bus; you can find schedules and transfer information and pricing online. Here’s a PDF example (always check reliable websites for the most up-to-date information). When I flew in to SJO and headed to the southern/western coast, I decided that the savings would be worth the tradeoff of several transfers and many hours (4 ½ on the way there/7 hours on the way back) crammed in an extremely hot bus – not sure my husband would agree with me on this point, but it was an adventure nonetheless. As we learned, busses can be extremely crowded; there’s a good chance you will stand in the isle for most of the journey. Also, note: busses not air-conditioned.
For those of you who are not comfortable starting your vacation on a bus, as you exit either SJO or LIR airport, “official” taxis are abundant. If you are inclined to negotiate, I recommend you research and read some reviews to get an idea on standard pricing. Although almost every driver will quote you about the same rate, it is possible, if you know the distance and have some idea of the cost others have paid, to find a driver who will accept your offer if it is reasonable (remember the wages in Costa Rica are extremely low, so although tipping is not required, I like to compensate and reward the flexibility and friendly negations of my driver).
Pre-arranged van shuttles (shared or private) are an upgrade from the traditional taxi; if you insist on reliable air-condition and a smoother/roomier ride you might want to consider this option. This can be more affordable if you’re traveling with a group or can gather a small group heading in the same direction.
Renting a car is the best way to “really” explore Costa Rica; it offers a freedom to get off the beaten path not found unless you have the good fortune to make friends with a local who’s willing to provide personal tours as a pastime and who is content with payment in chicken tenders and beer (yes, Jim, I’m talking about you!). There are many rental companies; many of which will meet you at the airport. But do your research! Make sure you understand what you are getting into – driving in Costa Rica is not like driving in most parts of the United States. Also, you will want to completely understand the contract and all the costs (insurances) required to rent a vehicle.
Once you get to your destination, in many of the touristy towns, you can also rent 4×4’s (quads) or scooters or golf carts or bicycles to explore. We’ve even combined the golf cart transport with ride sharing – but that’s another story for another time.
Lodging options run the gamut from tenting to upscale boutique hotels, from to room-share hostels to all-inclusive resorts, from quaint hotels to tree houses in the jungle, from lodges to B & Bs. You can read about my various accommodations experiences as I continue to develop my “Around Costa Rica” page.
One of the many revelations I discovered during my travels in Costa Rica was the phenomena of confluence. I was astounded observing rivers running into the ocean and the ocean in turn offering its salty seawater to the murky river bed. Known as an estuary, I’ve learned this merging of different bodies of waters is not uncommon in Costa Rica. I think it is a perfect analogy of the Costa Rican experience – come as you are, merge and blend, and then, just like the tide ebbs and the channel empties as the river recedes, if you must, return from whence you came, but if you’re like me, when the force of the tide pulls again, you will return to beautiful, peaceful Costa Rica. Pura Vida my friends!
PLACES TO VISIT
Posted by use2flip on January 25, 2016
Playa Guiones is a small, Pacific coastal community near Nosara on the Nicoya Peninsula in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. Visitors should fly in to Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (airport code: LIR), Guioness is about 2 1/2 hours southwest from LIR. Transportation options from the airport include: a pre-arranged shuttle (most expensive option), READ MORE …
Posted by use2flip on January 24, 2016